Ori Menashe is the chef and co-owner of one of Los Angeles’ most successful restaurants—Bestia. He opened Bestia along with his wife Genevieve Gergis in 2012. Since then the restaurant has received multiple accolades, including being named one of Los Angeles magazine’s Top 10 Best New Restaurants in 2012 as well as one of the 101 Best Restaurants in America for 2017 by The Daily Meal. In addition, Menashe was named the People’s Best New Chef, California for Food & Wine magazine in 2014 and one of Food & Wine’s 10 Best New Chefs in 2015.
I recently spoke with Menashe about his creative process, what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur and what skills leaders need today. Here are 10 areas that he says people should focus on to become a better leader.
1. Embrace Creativity. Sometimes leaders need to step out of their comfort zone and challenge themselves to be more innovative. Menashe says he wants to eat food that makes him insecure, inspires him and challenges him to be a better chef. From an early age he was exposed to food from all over the world. Menashe says those culinary experiences have built a flavor library in his mind. He uses those different flavor combinations as the starting point when creating new dishes. Then he always tries to throw in his own personal twist. His dishes focus on letting one ingredient really shine. So when developing a tomato salad, he experimented with cinnamon to boost the flavor. He made two red wine vinaigrettes—one with cinnamon and one without. After trying the vinaigrette with cinnamon, he thought, “wow, that tastes like a really good tomato and the other tastes like an okay tomato. So from there, that whole dish evolved.” He approaches ingredients with the idea of making them worthy to go on the menu. “Sometimes, I nail it and the first try is perfect, and sometimes, it takes me 10 times and it is frustrating,” Menashe notes.
2. Be Adaptable. Originally Menashe and Gergis wanted to have a restaurant that was smaller with approximately 60 seats. When they found the location, it was a much larger space so the direction of the menu and the type of equipment in the kitchen changed to be able to handle more volume. “We decided to create a menu that was more family driven where everything is served for the whole table,” Menashe says. “It was a more festive approach to a menu and the menu translated to the atmosphere of the restaurant.” It’s important for leaders to adjust their vision to changes in the marketplace in order to build a successful business long term.
3. Mentor Employees. Part of building a staff that is hard working and loyal is by helping your employees accomplish their goals. Menashe says that he wants his employees to have the same opportunities that he had early in his career. Not only does he pay them more than many other restaurants, he also supports them. “I always tell my staff, ‘life is short and you don’t want to wake up at the age of 40 being a sous chef at a hotel,’” Menashe says. “That is enough to drive someone to work hard.” He had chefs who mentored him and he wants to do that for his employees as well. “If one of my sous chefs is opening a restaurant, whether they want me involved or not doesn’t really matter, I will always be there for them. And, because I will be there for them, they will be there for me.”
4. Encourage Dreamers. Leaders should never underestimate the importance of hiring the right people for the job. That means looking beyond skills and experience to how well the person will fit into the culture of the organization. “Sometimes people come to me with a ton of experience and they talk about money and all of these things, but not about learning and future goals about what they want to do in their life. It is important to me to hire people with goals,” says Menashe. “My kitchen is the best culinary school that you can go to. It is a place where the chef is always involved and the sous chefs are always involved and we are there to teach the staff. We understand that mistakes happen but we minimize mistakes by training the people right.”
5. Look For Ways To Improve. Leaders should continually be trying to make their product better or more efficient or more consumer-friendly. Menashe says, “we always had in our mind the concept to make this place better everyday and we are never satisfied.” For example, one of Bestia’s core philosophies is to use locally sourced food that is in season. “We use tomatoes when tomatoes are in season because when they are not in season—even if the dish is great—it is not going to be as great,” he explains. That philosophy forces Menashe and his team to be creative and change menu items regularly, which is appealing to the restaurant’s repeat customers because there are new and fresh dishes. “Our menu right now is completely different from when we opened,” says Menashe, adding that “the menu we have right now is probably our best menu because we have evolved and I started to understand more what our customers are looking for and what they enjoy eating.”
6. Evaluate The Entire Experience. It’s important that leaders focus on the entire customer experience, not just the main part of their experience. For Menashe, that means training his staff on every touch point of what a customer would experience, from the valet attendants to the hostesses to the bartenders and servers to the busboys and even to the music being played. “We focus on everything, but the first and the last parts of the customer’s experience are the most important,” Menashe says. Which is why Bestia puts so much focus on training their valets to setting themselves apart through their exquisite dessert offerings. In many restaurants a savory chef is creating the desserts, but Bestia invested in a pastry chef, who also happens to be his wife, to ensure that the meal is finished the right way.
7. Make Time For Family. It’s tough to balance work and family—especially if you are a self-proclaimed workaholic like Menashe. “I love working,” he says, admitting that his work-life balance is supported by the fact that his wife works at the restaurant with him. “I see her all the time and she brings our daughter here all the time, so our house is the restaurant,” he explains. He also makes it a priority to get his daughter ready in the morning, make her breakfast and lunch and drive her to school. Leaders should set limits and carve out time for family just as they would for business appointments. Menashe adds that early in his career he worked as a chef at a restaurant where he arrived at 9 a.m. and left at midnight. Prior to taking the job, he and his wife discussed the opportunity. “She said, ‘you have 100% support from me. We won’t see each other as much, but this will get you to the level you need to be at before you open your own restaurant.’” His wife found time to visit him at the restaurant and was there to support him. “The time we did spend together was always perfect,” he says.
8. Carve Out Time For Yourself. The restaurant industry if fraught with long hours that can be physically demanding. “It is a difficult to be healthy in this type of environment,” Menashe says. He tries to take care of himself by watching what he eats, eating at normal times, avoiding alcohol while he is working and taking time for himself. He takes a 45-minute jog in the morning five days per week. That is his time to listen to music and reflect. “I am trying to be as healthy as possible mentally and physically,” he notes. It’s important that leaders find time each day for themselves—whether that is in the morning, at lunch or after work. Go for a walk, meditate, exercise, read a book or reflect on the day.
9. Promote Positivity. It’s vital that leaders build a work culture and environment that supports the mission of the business in a positive manner. Menashe explains that when he opened his restaurant, it was very stressful and not always a positive environment to work. “The stress was taking over how I wanted to do things,” he says, which is why now he focuses on creating an environment that is positive. That means if an employee is on edge or being negative, Menashe will tell them stop.
10. Accept Mistakes Will Happen. It’s important for leaders to challenge themselves and take risks—and that means they will make some mistakes along the way. You can’t let the fear of making a mistake keep you from taking action. But it’s also important that leaders educate themselves and work to become well rounded so that they don’t make a mistake that leads to failure. In Los Angeles, restaurants don’t often get second chances, which is why Menashe learned as much as he could and waited to open a restaurant until he felt ready. Menashe explains how his family was pushing him to stop working for other people and start his own restaurant. “I said, ‘I am still working for myself. I am making myself better. Let me understand this better so I don’t make mistakes.’” When Menashe opened Bestia, he admits that he did make some mistakes, but “I made a lot less than I should have,” he says. For the many customers who love Bestia, the wait was well worth it.